Microsoft backpedals from Ballmer's Windows 8 comments

One analyst, betting on late 2012, early 2013 release, says Microsoft has 'one chance' to get next version of Windows right

Microsoft yesterday backed away from comments made by CEO Steve Ballmer, who had told Japanese software developers that the next version of Windows would be dubbed Windows 8, and that it would launch in 2012.

"It appears there was a misstatement," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement the company issued Monday afternoon. "We are eagerly awaiting the next generation of Windows 7 hardware that will be available in the coming fiscal year. To date, we have yet to formally announce any timing or naming for the next version of Windows."

According to a transcript of his Monday speech made available by Microsoft, Ballmer said Monday that, "as we look forward to the next generation of Windows systems, which will come out next year, there's a whole lot more coming. As we progress through the year, you ought to expect to hear a lot about Windows 8. Windows 8 slates, tablets, PCs, a variety of different form factors."

Microsoft often keeps a tight lid on its products' names. In 2008, for instance, Microsoft didn't officially label the next edition as "Windows 7" until just weeks before it debuted an early build to developers, even though it had used that moniker for months as a code name.

Nor is this the first time that Microsoft has told everyone not to jump to conclusions about the next Windows. In February 2007, just days after a then-vice president of development refused to reveal the name of what would later become Windows 7, a Microsoft spokesman said the company was "not giving official guidance to the public yet about the next version of Windows, other than that we're working on it."

Most analysts have settled on "Windows 8" as the likely name for the next version of Microsoft's operating system.

Michael Cherry, an analyst with Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft, wondered exactly what part of Ballmer's comments Monday were misstatements.

"Was it the name, Windows 8?" Cherry asked. "Or was it [the release in] 2012? Sometimes this is like being a soothsayer, pulling apart the entrails of animals."

Cherry remains slightly pessimistic about Windows 8's release time, saying today that he's sticking with his earlier predictions that the next operating system will reach customers in late 2012 or early 2013.

A majority of pundits, however, seems convinced that Microsoft will launch Windows 8 in the fall of next year, matching the October 2009 appearance of its predecessor, Windows 7.

"I'd love to be proven wrong," Cherry said, "but this will be a major release. And as they move forward to debug and test, they may have to rethink and change things. Some of those may be fixes of a caliber that are so [significant] that testing has to restart."

Cherry pointed out that that is what happened with Windows Vista, the problem- and perception-plagued operating system that Microsoft essentially had to restart after abandoning much of the work it had already done.

Vista, which launched in retail in January 2007, was several years late to market because of the restart.

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